Leonaine angels named her, and they took the light
Of the laughing stars and framed her, in a smile of white,
And they made her hair of gloomy midnight, and her eyes of bloomy
Moonshine, and they brought her to me in a solemn night.
In a solemn night of summer, when my heart of gloom,
Blossomed up to greet the comer, like a rose in bloom,
All foreboding that distressed me, I forgot as joy caressed me,
Lying joy that caught and pressed me, in the arms of doom.
Only spake the little lisper in the angel tongue,
Yet I listening heard the whisper–“Songs are only sung
Here below that they may grieve you, tales are told you to deceive you,
So must Leonaine leave you while her love is young.”
Then God smiled–and it was morning, matchless and supreme,
Heaven’s glory seemed adorning earth with its esteem;
Every heart but mine seemed gifted with a voice of prayer, and lifted,
When my Leonaine drifted from me like a dream.
Leonaine : A short background
A MS. copy of this poem came into my hands about eleven years since in the following manner. My elder brother, John Wallace, who emigrated to California in 1849, resided there till his death in March, 1895. I had visited him at his home at Stockton in the summer of 1887, and from that time we corresponded about twice or thrice a year. I think it was in the last letter I received from him, nearly a year before his death, that I found an enclosure in his handwriting of the poem in question, with the following heading:–“Lines left by a wanderer at a wayside house in lieu of cash for board and lodging one night.”
At the end of the poem are the initials, E. A. P., but there is neither date nor any further particulars as to how it was obtained, neither was there any reference to it in the letter itself. Being at the time fully occupied with literary work, I gave little attention to it beyond noticing that it appeared to have all the best characteristics of Poe’s style, and naturally supposing that it must [[p. 330]] be known to Poe’s various editors and biographers, and that it was included in some of the recent editions of his works, none of which I had seen. I therefore put the verses away among other poetical scraps and newspaper cuttings, fully expecting to hear something about it in my brother’s next letter. One peculiarity was, that it was written in pencil, as if it had been hastily copied when away from home and inserted in the letter because he knew that I was an admirer of Poe. Soon after I heard of his illness, and I do not think I received another letter from him.
The verses remained almost forgotten till Mr. Marriot’s letter (in the Fortnightly of September last) about Poe’s essay on the Universe led me to inquire of him if this poem had appeared in any edition of Poe’s works, and finding that it was, apparently, quite unknown, I wrote to my brother’s widow, asking for any information as to where my brother obtained the poem. The reply received a few weeks back was unsatisfactory. None of the family had seen the verses, or remembered anything about them, and no copy of them was to be found in any of my brother’s papers. I can, therefore, only suppose that the occupier of the “wayside house” referred to had emigrated to California shortly afterwards, and that the original poem, or a copy of it, had been preserved, perhaps in an album, and perhaps even without any knowledge of the poet’s name as indicated by the initials. It is not improbable that during one of my brother’s journeys on surveying or engineering work he may have stayed at the house of the possessors of the MS., and have made a copy of it for me, and enclosed it in the letter, intending to give me further information about it when he wrote again, an intention frustrated by the extremely painful circumstances attending his fatal illness.
Coming now to the poem itself, if, as I have not the shadow of a doubt, it was written by Poe, why did he not acknowledge it or communicate it to any of his friends, or leave any copy of it among his papers? Here, again, we can find, I think, a very natural and sufficient, though of course purely hypothetical, explanation. It appears to me that this little poem must have been written under the influence of genuine poetical inspiration, at a time when the author was comparatively free from worry, and in a state of good bodily health and mental tranquillity. While possessing all the characteristics of his best style, it is in some respects superior to most, perhaps to all his similar productions. Its subject matter is unusually simple, the birth and early death of a child; and it is treated in a most simple but highly poetical manner, in which, though the morbid gloom of his nature appears, it is relieved by passages of such rare descriptive beauty and pathos as to give an exceptional charm to the whole. In the perfection of rhyme and [[p. 331]] rhythm, and the easy flow of the verse, the lines will bear comparison with his very best efforts, while in two points they seem to me to indicate the culmination of his genius: the first being the almost complete absence of alliteration as an adjunct to the general effect–though I often greatly admire the use of this artifice–the second, that a new and very beautiful form of versification is here used not to be found in any of his other poems. Each verse possesses eight rhyming words, one pair and two triplets, five of these being two-syllable words, and their somewhat peculiar arrangement is so carefully followed in each verse as to be evidently the result of a well thought-out plan which this little poem was composed to illustrate. In his essay on the Philosophy of Composition he had referred to the absence of originality in versification, declaring his belief that the possible varieties of metre and stanza are infinite, and that much of the possible charm and beauty of poetry are lost by the absence of invention of new forms of versification.